Political instability snatching what little left for daily wage earners

Previously Published: The Business Standard

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Ismail Mia, a rickshaw-puller in the capital near Moghbazar, struggles to make ends meet amid nationwide blockade. Photo: Mehedi Hasan Marof

“If this situation continues, people will have to survive by eating Kochu Pata [Colocasia leaves],” says Ismail Mia, a rickshaw-puller in Dhaka.

He has only made Tk70 till afternoon, the second day of the blockade announced by the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami.

The political impasse comes at a time of galloping inflation. Ismail has a family of six to feed, including a son with disabilities.

Speaking to The Business Standard on Wednesday afternoon, Ismail said, “While I usually earn around Tk1,000-1,200, now it has come down to Tk400-500.”

The money sounds almost good, but Ismail also has to deposit Tk400 each day to his garage in Moghbazar’s Noyatola.

“The owner doesn’t show any leniency even in this political situation,” he said.

“I used to have a meal at the hotel for Tk50/60 before, but now even after spending Tk100 my stomach isn’t filled.”

“Price of everything in the market is on the rise; I do not care who runs the country, I want to keep my family’s stomach filled with food,” he said.

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With mounting expenses, Kamran, contemplates an uncertain future amidst empty streets in Dhaka. Photo: Mehedi Hasan Marof

Elsewhere down the deserted Moghbazar-Mouchak road, Kamran, a middle-aged CNG driver, scanned the horizon for passengers.

“I could not find a single passenger till now since morning,” he lamented.

Even the day before, Kamran barely scraped by.

“Yesterday, I only got two trips the whole day. One was for Tk320 and another for Tk450. I have to pay a deposit of Tk800 per day as rent.”

Kamran, who recently got married, had only brought his wife to Dhaka a couple of months ago.

Now, faced with the prospect of more political instability, he wonders if it’s time to turn back home to his village, where he “doesn’t even have a land to cultivate anything.”

“I heard that the country is likely to be this way till the election; if that is the case, I will have to ask people for loans to support my family,” he said, a damning prediction of his fortune.

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Then there is Abdul Haque, who works as a helper at a bus counter at the Gabtoli Bus Terminal.

Haque, already pressed for money, had just borrowed Tk3,000 to buy school books for his son.

As no long-haul buses are operating due to lack of passengers, Haque is not getting paid.

“I get paid for calling people to choose J R Paribahan as their commute. Now there are hardly any passengers; who should I call?” he asked.

He said for a bus to make a minimum profit, 30 passengers are needed. For the past two days, the number of passengers has trickled down to 3-4 the whole day.

“Last time, I faced such a toll on my earnings was back in 2014 amid political unrest,” he recalled.

During a normal month, he earns around Tk21,000, and from that he needs to pay a house rent of Tk8,000; food for his family of four sets him back around Tk10,000 a month. Then there is the matter of “medicine, transport cost, books and pocket money for his college-going two sons.”

“If this continues, how will I survive?”

Street-side food vendors suffer as the city stays home

Ibrahim Talukder, a staffer at a local restaurant on the Mogbazar-Mouchak roadside, says the prices of raw food materials like oil, vegetables, rice, and bread have all hiked a lot in the last few months.

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Ibrahim Talukder, a restaurant staffer in Dhaka’s Moghbazar shares how decline in customers impact their livelihoods during the 2nd day of nationwide 3-day blockade. Photo: Mehedi Hasan Marof

Now amid these political disruptions, he says, “We are getting fewer customers as very few people are on the streets.”

Highlighting a concern, he said, “A large number of our customers are people from outside Dhaka coming to the city for different purposes.”

Long-haul public transport services to the capital from almost all the districts have come to a standstill due to the BNP-Jamaat-led hartal and blockade in the last few days.

“I get paid Tk500 per day, we are eight waiters here, and there are three cooking staffers as well. Our owner said he had to pay us out of his own pocket on Saturday and Sunday,” he added.

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Ahsan Kabir, a Jhalmuri seller in front of Rupayun Tower at Bangla Motor. Photo: Mehedi Hasan Marof

Meanwhile, Ahsan Kabir, a Jhalmuri seller in front of Rupayun Tower at Bangla Motor, a busy area in the capital, said, “Due to blockade [hartal in his word], my sales have halved.”

“I have three children at home with their mother depending on me. How can I run a family if my income is halved?”

The rent for his tin-shed house has also been raised amid the spiralling prices.

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Riyad, a coconut seller in Bangla Motor intersection, finds humor amidst hardship in Dhaka’s current situation. Photo: Mehedi Hasan Marof

Riyad, a coconut seller, turned to dark humour to explain his predicament.

“I am very happy with the situation. Earlier I had to cut 10-12 coconuts an hour, but now I hardly need to cut two.”

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